After Austin voters passed Project Connect, a $7.1 billion public transportation expansion, in November, the first task for Capital Metro and the city was to put in place the government board that would oversee contract approvals. That happened in December when the members of the Austin Transit Partnership were announced.

The next step involves public engagement, as Capital Metro must go through a federally regimented environmental review process before it can begin design and construction on the suite of projects. That review process will be longer for the two new light rail lines than it will be for the new bus routes.

Between Jan. 26-29, Capital Metro will hold four virtual scoping meetings to discuss the Orange Line, which will run north-south between Stassney Lane and the North Lamar Transit Center; and four meetings for the Blue Line, which will run between North Lamar and the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Combined with the downtown tunnel that will take both lines away from traffic in Austin's core, the light rail lines account for more than 80% of Project Connect's total costs.

The virtual scoping meetings will cover the project's history, environmental process, purpose, goals and objectives, among other topics, of the rail lines and will give residents a chance to provide feedback.

Dave Couch, Capital Metro's program manager for Project Connect, told the agency's board members Dec. 14 the process from this point on is very structured and stringent based on federal approvals the agency will need. The tax rate election Nov. 3, Couch said, puts Capital Metro "way ahead" in those terms.

According to a timeline Couch presented Dec. 14, the rail lines could move into the project engineering phase in early 2023. Initial timelines Capital Metro released ahead of the vote said construction could begin in 2024.

The timeline leading to construction on new bus lines is shorter than it is for rail. Virtual meetings for the new Expo and Pleasant Valley lines that will run through east and southeast Austin are scheduled for Feb. 2-4. That will be followed, Couch said, by environmental clearance and construction procurement, with work on new stations set to begin in the fall and be completed around spring 2023.

The virtual meeting schedule is as follows.

Light rail: Orange Line

  • Jan. 25, 6 p.m.

  • Jan. 26, noon (Spanish)

  • Jan. 27, 10 a.m.

  • Jan. 29, noon

Light rail: Blue Line

  • Jan. 26, noon

  • Jan. 27, 6 p.m. (Spanish)

  • Jan. 28, 6 p.m.

  • Jan. 29, 10 a.m.

MetroRapid: Expo and Pleasant Valley lines

  • Feb. 2, 3 and 4, times TBD (Spanish)